I’ve never understood why people think kindness is weakness. It’s something I’ve heard over the years and it just doesn’t make any sense in my brain. It takes a lot of strength to be kind, especially when you’re frustrated, under a tight deadline, or don’t agree with the way someone is handling a situation. Not to mention being nice usually gets you further ahead in your life and career.
I suppose that’s where some people object. There’s this idea that you have to be cutthroat and walk all over others to progress. And in some cases, I’m sure that happens. I’ve seen it in the corporate world, where the bullies have the most power and from the outside it might seem like they’re living the good life, but those people aren’t always respected or liked. And not that we should care if other people like us, but it’s hard to have any kind of meaningful connections if you’re not a nice person. And meaningful connections are important in business.
Kindness has never held me back in my career. If anything, it propelled it forward, especially after I got away from that awful corporate world. I think it’s why so many people are driven towards self-employment these days. We want to work with people we like, people who are nice. People who are easy to work with. One of the biggest perks about working for yourself is that you don’t have to work with anyone you don’t want to. I weeded out those negative personality types very quickly after starting my company. I like all of my clients, and every one of them is kind.
That’s not to say that any human can be nice every second of the day, or that everyone should be walking around singing while cartoon characters circle around them. I’m envisioning that scene from (500) Days of Summer where Joseph Gordon-Levitt is dancing to “You Make My Dreams” by Hall & Oates. While it’s great when you feel that way, that isn’t how life works all the time. You can’t always choose what happens to you, but you can choose how to react.
Many people react emotionally. They raise their voices and yell and throw tantrums. They talk down to people when they’re upset and sometimes say harsh things that hurt feelings. Is that strength? No. Anyone can do that. Strength comes from being kind in those moments. It’s easy to get triggered and fly off the handle. Staying calm and being nice in those moments is a superpower. You will have a much better time in life, and in business, if you can do that. The strength comes from truly listening, giving others the opportunity to speak their mind and be heard, and then responding in a respectful manner. You can be firm. You can stay true to your convictions and push back, but you can do it with grace and have much better results.
I remember being on a job once where a few people on the crew were unhappy about the meal options provided by the client. Now from my point of view, the fact that multiple options were available was nice. That doesn’t always happen on set. As a vegetarian, I can’t even count how many times I haven’t been able to eat what’s provided at all. I’ve never once gotten mad about it or yelled at someone when it happened. But in this case, these guys formed a mini mob to make demands and threaten to walk off of the job if they didn’t get some better food. I wish I was kidding. But they were willing to blow up the whole thing because they didn’t approve of the meals or craft services, which, by the way, weren’t even our responsibility. Our client provided all of that so it was out of our control.
But, in response, I stayed calm. I spoke up. I was direct. I asked them firmly to stop raising their voices and talking over me. I pointed out that I gave them the opportunity to speak and would appreciate the same respect in return. I let them know I understood their concerns and that their feelings were valid, and I’d see if there was anything we could do to improve the situation for the following day. I worked with my team to find a solution and moved on. I was kind even to those who weren’t kind to me. Is that weakness? Definitely not. Weak would be giving into emotion and yelling back. Plus, I’m the one who has been brought back for these projects every time. The guys who threw the fit? That was the last one for them. Seems like another win for kindness to me.
In the last episode, I talked about the idea that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. But when you’re asking for something, being nice about it increases your odds significantly. I don’t know anyone who thinks, “Oh yeah, that one guy is a real jerk. I can’t wait to work with him again” unless it’s thought in complete sarcasm. But if you have a good experience, you want to work with those people again, right? Do you recall a time when you worked with a mean person and thought it was a great time? I’m guessing it doesn’t happen often. The people you have the best time with are usually nice. So kindness as a business skill means repeat clients, which is what we usually want.
Think about conversations you’ve had that have left you feeling good, and ones that had the opposite effect. I don’t want to be repetitive, but you get the point. People want to work with people they like, and people tend to like nice people. How you talk to people matters.
If your client owes you money and the invoice is past due, calling and yelling at them isn’t going to help. But if you send a polite email checking on the status, they’re more likely to look into it and see what they can do. You’re not wrong for being upset that payment is late, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to yell at someone else about it. I don’t know how many times I’ve fielded calls from angry vendors even though I had nothing to do with making payments.
I remember a producer calling me at my old company, threatening to tell a news anchor that the company didn’t pay on time. I was the wrong person to be having this conversation with, but I listened. I understood his frustration and kindly tried to explain what I knew about the situation, but he didn’t want to hear it. I passed along the information to my accounting department and then made a note to never hire him again. It’s not because he was upset about the invoice being past due, it was about his demeanor and how he handled the situation. If he would’ve been nice, I would’ve been more likely to go out of my way to see what I could do to expedite his payment. Instead, he just talked himself out of future work. People are more willing to help people who are nice to them than those who aren’t. That seems pretty obvious, right?
If you’re in charge of a crew and are constantly yelling at or belittling them, they aren’t going to give you their best work, and that will negatively affect you and your project. It’s hard to care about something when you’re getting emotionally beat up while doing it, and the stress of that type of environment leads to mistakes. But if you’re considerate and take the time to acknowledge that you appreciate what they’re doing, they’re going to do better for you. They’ll want to work with you on future projects and that’s how you can build some strong working relationships.
If you disagree with anything I’ve said and are one of those people who thinks kindness is weakness, let me know. I’d love to hear why you feel that way and if that means you prefer to work with unkind people. I truly believe there is more strength in being rational, absorbing information objectively, responding with compassion, and giving people the benefit of the doubt. If you agree, I want to hear about that too. Feel free to flood my inbox with stories of positivity and how being kind has helped you in your business. Help me dispel this outdated notion that kindness equals weakness. It’s just silly and we know better.